- Ultimately, the best used turboprop is the one that best meets your operational needs
- For overland cargo flying the Cessna Grand Caravan 208B is the best, whilst the C-130 beats it over water
- The best used turboprop for corporate operators is the Piaggio Avanti P180 because of its high maximum speed, excellent performance, cost-efficient nature, and cabin comfort.
- The best used turboprop to fly into the bush is the Daher Kodiak because of its easy operation, synthetic vision system and ruggedness
- A part of the incredibly popular Beechcraft King Air family, the C90GT is the best overland personal prop whilst the PC-12 beats it over water
Turboprops can be as fast as jet aircraft while being easier to maintain. Used turboprops have the added value of lower acquisition costs.
The six best used turboprop aircraft are:
- Cessna Caravan 208 B - Best Over Land Cargo
- Piaggio P-180 Avanti - Best Corporate
- Lockheed C-130 - Best Over Water Cargo
- Daher Quest Kodiak - Best Bush
- Pilatus PC-12 - Best Personal
- Beechcraft King Air C90GT - Best Over Water Personal
As an experienced pilot involved in flight operations, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in aircraft acquisition, both for new and used aircraft.
Every aircraft is designed for a specific mission. If you want to get in and out of regional airports with fields less than 4000 feet, then the chances are that you are going to drop jets from consideration. If you are going to consider fields that are not paved, then you are definitely looking for a propeller-driven aircraft.
If you carry more than three people at any given time, then piston-engine aircraft are not plausible for reasons of space and comfort.
Turboprops offer the best of both worlds. They have the short-field performance of piston-engine aircraft with the speed and comfort of many private jets. They are best used in short-to-medium distances between hubs, or between hubs and rural airports.
The key to choosing the best turboprop does not just rest on its flight characteristics, but also on its acquisition costs, ease of performing routine maintenance, and performance capabilities.
The key factor in choosing a turboprop is to match it to its mission and then cross reference that to the availability in the market. The great thing about all aircraft is that you can always rely on their utility to be reflected in the numbers. If there is a glut in the market, it's because the model has more sellers than buyers, and you have to ask yourself why that is.
Just because a turboprop is expensive should not preclude it from consideration. You should also look at what it would be like when you dispose of it down the road. The best used turboprops are the ones that meet mission objectives as efficiently as possible and have the lowest difference between acquisition and disposal costs.
6 Best Used Turboprops
Cessna Caravan 208B - Best for Cargo Flying
The Cessna Caravan 208 B is a single-pilot, single-engine high-wing aircraft that has a maximum take-off weight of 8,750 pounds with a full fuel capacity of 2,246 pounds that can carry 4,186 pounds of cargo.
The 208 B is the best over-land cargo-hauling aircraft over medium distances, that is capable of navigating all-terrain, performing quick turns, and being a low-maintenance turboprop that is able to get in and out of short runways, paved or unpaved, so that cargo can be delivered to the most remote of places. There is no other single-engine turboprop that can beat the overall capability of the 208 B.
Aside from the quantitative factors of cost, and the qualitative factors of landing in unimproved runways, there is one aspect of the 208 B that none of the other competing aircraft can live up to. For a cargo aircraft that makes repeated takeoffs and landings, having a pressurized aircraft is not cost-effective as the cycles will have a detrimental effect on airframe integrity.
Both the King Air and the PC-12 are pressurized aircraft and do well up at altitude, but delivering cargo to airports every once in a while in the span of an hour doesn’t require the aircraft to ascend to the highest altitude and cycle through pressurization. It's also one less thing the pilot needs to worry about and can focus on getting in and out of the terminal area.
To be able to land in rough conditions the best in this category must have robust fixed landing gear that can take the beating of slamming the plane onto uneven and unpaved fields after a steep approach to clear terrain, like the 208B. Unlike many of the other turboprops that are used for cargo delivery, few, like the 208 are certified for steep approaches into difficult airstrips.
Unlike other turboprops that have comparatively delicate landing gear, like the King Air 350i, the PC-12, and the Dornier 228 which all have retractable mechanisms to worry about when negotiating rough fields, the 208 B has a proven fixed landing gear system that has never failed in flight for the length of its service life.
Because of its robust landing gear, it's reliable and powerful turboprop power plant, its large cargo area and cargo door along with its option to add a belly pod, the best used turboprop for cargo hauling over land across short distances and frequent stops is the Cessna Caravan 208 B.
Fully loaded, the 208 B can reach a maximum cruise speed of 170 knots at FL210, or 160 knots when flying at 15,000 feet. The latter is where multi-stop cargo planes typically fly.
On average, the 208 B costs $1,200 to travel 150 nautical miles carrying 4,186 pounds. In essence, this means it costs 29 cents to carry one pound for one hour. The Caravan travels 170 nautical miles in an hour which means it costs $0.0017 for the 208 B to carry 1 lb over the distance of 1 nautical mile. To put that in perspective, that’s less than the price of a postage stamp!
In comparison, the TBM 960 costs $1,500 an hour and can carry 888 pounds resulting in $1.69 per pound. Since the TBM flies 220 nautical miles in one hour, $0.007 per pound per nautical mile. That is three and a half times the cost per pound per mile of the 208 B. The calculus is the same for almost every other single-engine turboprop. The 208 is decidedly the best in this category.
A brand new Caravan 208 B cost less than $2.5 million when it was still in production. While other variants of the Caravan 208 are still being produced, the 208 B, specifically, is out of production. You can still find a few in the used market costing about $1.8 million.
In comparison, a used PC-12 of similar age costs an average of $1 million and can carry 1,300 pounds, which equates to $769 per pound of payload capability while the 208 B is $430 per pound, which is considerably lower.
Whichever single turboprop we compare the 208 B to, it seems to always be able to come out on top.
While weight is everything when discussing cargo, there is also the matter of volume. Some things could be light but have awkward shapes. This can also be accommodated on a 208B. The 208’s cabin volume is 340 cubic feet.
If more is needed, the Caravan can be fitted with a belly pod. The pod will allow an additional 111 cubic feet and can carry up to 1,090 lbs.
Piaggio P-180 Avanti - Best for Corporate Flying
The Piaggio P-180 Avanti is the best used turboprop for corporate use, beating out its rivals with lower entry costs, better specifications, higher performance, and increased comfort.
A 2010 Piaggio P180 Avanti averages $2.6 million on the used market today. It costs $2,120 per hour to fly the airplane, including fixed and variable costs. From a cost perspective, it is easy to understand why this used turboprop aircraft is the best because a comparable King Air 350i from the same year costs two million dollars more.
The Avanti has a passenger capacity of 9 business executives, making the average price per seat $280,000, considerably lower compared to the King Air 350i ER’s price per seat of $455,000, and PC-12 NG’s $311,000. While the King Air and the PC-12 are themselves fabulous aircraft, the market pricing makes it such that the Avanti has a lower entry cost.
The Avanti’s cost per hour per seat is also lower than two other solidly built platforms. While the Avanti is $235 per hour per seat, the King Air 350i ER is $238 per hour per seat while the PC-12 NG’s cost per hour per seat is $166. Even though the Avanti has better head and shoulder room, its lower per-seat cost is a testament to its design.
The Avanti looks nothing like a typical corporate turboprop. It has a third lifting surface combined with a T-tail and a straight low wing that is located aft of the passenger cabin. Its two PT6A engines are mounted on the main wing in a pusher configuration placing the blades as far away from the pressurized cabin as possible.
From a qualitative standpoint, the Avanti’s cabin is more comfortable and results in lesser fatigue over 4-hour flights than other competitors. Due to its lower cabin noise and vibration, from the rear-facing propellers, passengers in the Avanti arrive at their destinations fresher.
The P180 is fast, even faster than some of the VLJs on the market. It is certainly faster than the CJ1+ by 13 knots, much faster than the Citation Mustang by 60 knots, even faster than the King Air 350 by almost 40 knots, and the Eclipse by 30 knots. What’s even better is that the Avanti has a larger cabin than all the aircraft mentioned.
It is also a greener aircraft in terms of fuel consumption. Comparing apples to apples, the Avanti, when powered back to 380 knots, burns 600 pounds of fuel per hour while the CJ1+ burns almost 800 pounds per hour. You can also look at the Avanti in another way. Match the fuel burn of 800 pounds like the CJ1+ and what you get is the Avant’s high speed cruise of a staggering 402 knot TAS, a greater-than-20-knot advantage over the jet.
When flying at its ceiling altitude, the fuel flow reduces to 350 pounds per hour and stretches its endurance to 5 hours while only reducing its airspeed to 360 knots (TAS). This gives operators the choice of stretching fuel or getting somewhere fast, both of which it does better than most of the other airplanes.
The Avanti has a max payload of 1,800 pounds, making its hourly cost per pound $1.18 per pound per hour. This is one of the best in the industry, and when added to the large cabin and ability to get in and out of unpaved fields, gives companies the ability to transport executives to plants and customers in distant locations.
The landing and takeoff distance of the Avanti beats all the Very Light Jets (VLJs) on the market, which is what you want when needing to reach smaller airports.
Lockheed C-130 - Best for Over Water Cargo
The Lockheed C-130 is, by far, the best used turboprop to haul cargo over land, water, and across continents, besting its competitors with significantly better performance and lower unit costs.
A used military Lockheed C-130 Hercules averages $8 million to purchase and costs $9,000 per hour to operate. It can carry a load of 44,000 pounds while carrying full fuel resulting in an acquisition cost of $181 per pound, or 20 cents per pound per hour. This is lower than the King Air 350i C at $1.47 per pound per hour, and the Cessna Sky Courier which costs 26 cents per pound per hour.
With the Hercules being able to cover an average of 250 nautical miles in an hour, it costs the cargo operator 0.0008 cents per pound per nautical mile. While it costs a King Air 350i C operator 0.05 cents per pound per nautical mile, and the Cessna Sky Courier operator 0.013 cents per pound per nautical mile, their cost differences make the C-180 the true cost leader due to the economies of scale.
This is the cheapest cost per pound per nautical mile rate of any turboprop on the market.
Even in absolute terms, the C-130 can carry the most amount of cargo to distances further than the Sky Courier, the King Air 350, or even the Dornier 228 which can only carry 4,321 pounds of cargo across a range of 214 nautical miles. Even when discussing absolute distances, the C-130 still beats every other turboprop aircraft available today, that's why it is the best used turboprop to haul cargo over water and long distances.
The C-130 has superior landing ability and better safety for cargo over water. With four turboprop engines, compared to the King Air’s two, the Sky Couriers two and the Dornier 228’s two, the C-130’s double redundant systems make the aircraft superior with critical mission parameters.
As for landing and access. The C-130 only needs 3,330 feet to launch and 5,000 feet to land. But that equation does not paint a full picture. The C-130 is designed to land in the harshest conditions, be it the African Serengeti, the plains of the midwest, or the tundra in the nether regions of Alaska, the C-130 can make it in and out.
The C-130 is the only plane on the list of turboprops that can land in uninhabited places to drop off its cargo. Among all the other aircraft, the C-130 can also carry its own forklift to load and unload cargo in uninhabited places.
Another advantage of the C-130 Hercules compared to any of the other cargo turboprops is the size of the cargo is typically limited to the dimensions of the aircraft’s cargo door.
The King Air 350i C has a cargo door that is 53 inches high by 49 inches tall. The largest object that you can fit into the aircraft cabin will have to be less than those dimensions. In the PC-12, the cabin door is 52 inches tall by 52 inches wide. The C-130 has a cargo ramp that is 10 feet wide and 9 feet tall, eclipsing its competitor with the ability to carry extra large payloads.
From a performance standpoint, the C-130 is not only able to back up on its own without the need for pushback by throwing the throttles into beta, but it is also the only aircraft that is certified to take off with one engine inoperative while carrying cargo. For cargo operators, this means that they will have a lower chance of an aircraft being stranded due to engine trouble.
Between its cost to operate and the volume it can move in one flight, the C-130 is clearly the best used turboprop an operator could employ to carry large loads across long distances over water.
The C-130 also has the benefit of a rapid turnaround as palletized containers can be loaded on and off rapidly, even with the engines still running. Turnaround times, measured in mere minutes are the norm for the C-130 which has benefits in cost and mission time.
Daher Quest Kodiak - Best for Bush Flying
The Daher Quest Kodiak 100 is the best plane to have if you are outdoorsy and make frequent trips to the bush. With one of the toughest landing gear assemblies in the industry, the tricycle configuration provides the flexibility to convert it to skis, use regular-sized tires, opt for oversized tires for the backcountry, or get the plane floats. The Kodiak 100 is designed to work with them all without any additional modification.
A powerful turboprop power plant combined with refined aerodynamics and superior structural strength results in a plane that you can land anywhere and in almost any condition and that, in part, is what makes this the best turboprop for the bush.
The bush, as far as the Kodiak is concerned, includes the high country. Be it on the slopes of Alaskan mountain ranges, or the Italian alps, the Kodiak is able to access them with a robust pressurized cabin and enough power to carry nine passengers.
Then there is the landing and takeoff performance. The Kodiak can come into a valley with high surroundings, make a steep approach, and still land within 600 feet. It can take off from those same conditions, within 500 feet and clear a 50-foot obstacle within 800 feet. All this while being at its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW).
It even lends itself to wingsuiting enthusiasts or skydiving with the large cargo door in the rear that easily allows jumpers a path away from the horizontal tail. The cargo door, large enough to enter and exit with heavy knapsacks or load small pallets measures 49 and a quarter by 49 and a quarter square inches. That's just over four feet in height and width.
Whether you’re an outdoor adventurer operator or a private owner who spends a lot of time outdoors, the Daher Kodiak 100 is the plane to get you there and back, reliably. Up front, the PT6 engine that powers the plane uses one of the latest technologies that Pratt and Whitney Canada has developed, giving the turbine engine a digital engine control unit, and in some models, a full FADEC-capable power plant. That makes this single-pilot turboprop a breeze to fly.
Compared to the PC-12 or the King Air, the Kodiak has better structural and operational characteristics to land in remote locations and under tougher conditions. The King Air and Pilatus can land on turf fields but are not recommended on bumpy unimproved land where the Kodiak can go.
Compared to the Caravan 208, the Kodiak is a better bush turboprop as it gives the operator better access to higher elevations. It is even able to get into Lukla airport, situated at an elevation above 9,000 feet for those headed to Everest. Having a pressurized aircraft with a digitized flight management system that includes cabin pressurization and engine management, alleviates a lot of the pilot’s responsibilities leaving him time to fly the plane.
Besides a robust structure and wide access to the farthest corners of the earth, the Kodiak can carry a mix of passengers and odd-sized cargo better than other aircraft in its class. The cabin can be rearranged to load seats on one side while allowing longer cargo to be lined up on the other, instead of making do with boxy cargo spaces which is the norm on most turboprops.
Pilatus PC-12 - Best for Personal Use
The Pilatus PC-12 is the best turboprop for personal use to go on business trips or take the family on holiday because it is the perfect juxtaposition between an easy-to-fly aircraft with one that is reliable, powerful, and has the ability to land in short fields, opening up more airports than with a private jet.
The PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop fitted with the highly-reliable PT6A engine that is powerful enough to launch the aircraft within 2,600 feet. The PC-12 also has trailing link retractable landing gear, designed for paved and unpaved fields, allowing the PC-12 to reach distances beyond major hubs and regional airports and to unpaved fields.
As a private aircraft, this allows users to hangar the aircraft on fields closer to home, reducing road travel to larger airports and reducing hangaring costs.
The PC-12 can carry up to 7 adults, or 4 adults along with 580 pounds of cargo, be it skis, golf clubs, or even camping gear. Whichever the choice, the beauty of the PC-12 is the removable seats that can make room for additional cargo.
As for private ownership, it is one of the cheapest turboprops to own in terms of operational costs, which presently average at about $1,500 per hour. With the ability to carry 7 passengers and cargo, that works out to be $214 per person per hour.
A King Air 200 costs $1,800 and can carry 7 passengers with luggage, but the acquisition cost for the King Air 200 is $333,000 per seat whereas the PC-12’s acquisition cost is only $300,000 per seat, giving you a more affordable turboprop.
While the numbers between the King Air and the PC-12 are too close to make a substantial difference, the qualitative factors that make the PC-12 the best used turboprop for personal use come down to just one fact - the PC-12 is a lot easier to fly than almost any other turboprop currently on the market.
The PC-12 is significantly better to fly a single pilot compared to the King Air 200, and certainly compared to the 350i, even though they are certified to fly as single pilot aircraft. The PC-12 is a better all-around single-pilot aircraft that offers similar power with lesser maintenance requirements.
Keeping track of maintenance on one turboprop can be hectic, double that with a twin. A business aviation flight department has dedicated staff to handle all that, but as a private individual, even if you are an aviation enthusiast and have the software to do it, it gets to be laborious and inefficient.
As a personal owner, two engines are great in case one goes out, but this is a turboprop. They fail less frequently than pistons and even less during flight. Unless you find yourself taking trips over water, a single turboprop is a better bet than a twin and the best single turboprop for personal use is, without a doubt, the PC-12.
Beechcraft King Air C90GT - Best Over Water Private Turboprop
The King Air C90GT is the best used turboprop for personal use when frequent flight across long distances over water is the norm. The C90 takes the honor of being the best because of its superior cabin comfort, legendary reliability, single pilot certification, its cost-effective performance, and, not to mention, the added safety in redundancy by having two of everything when flying over water with your loved ones.
As far as comfort is concerned, the King Air C90GT beats out the Piper Cheyenne, another popular personal twin engine turboprop. The Cheyenne seats five in a cabin that is 197 cubic feet while the C90GT seats 5 with 218 cubic feet, giving occupants more room.
The C90GT also has the capability of carrying 732 pounds in the cabin while flying at Flight Level (FL)300 but maintaining a cabin altitude of 12,500 feet. The Cheyenne is not able to meet the same number as its cabin altitude gets above 13,000 feet while its ceiling is at 29,000 feet.
At that altitude, the Chyenne burns 90 gph to fly at 270 knots while the C90GT burns 70 gallons per hour flying at 270 knots TAS. While the speeds are the same, the King Air has better cabin comfort and uses less fuel, thus giving it the advantage.
But it's not just the comfort of the passenger that enjoys a lower cabin altitude, it is also significantly quieter in the cabin of the C90GT than in the Cheyenne. It almost feels like you are in one of the most expensive midsize jets, with the ability to get to that altitude and feel the relative quiet around you. Part of the reason is the lower prop RPM on the C90GT than on the Cheyenne.
The one benefit that the C90GT has over other twin turboprops is the auto feather system which is a good feature to have in a plane that typically will fly at maximum load capacity and has only one pilot on the flight deck. Having an engine auto-feather its prop when it fails, saves the pilot from the extra work as he continues to fly the plane and communicate with the tower.
Plus, the King Air family has been in continuous production since Beechcraft released the original in the mid-1960s and the C90GT is regarded as one of the best in the family - surely 60 years’ of pilots’ experiences can’t be wrong?!
The C90GT is the best used turboprop for personal use over water also because of its better value retention. When the time comes to upgrade, the C90GT has less depreciation than any other used turboprop.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood